‘My adoptive mother told me she no longer wanted me when she had her own children. They abandoned me on the streets.’: Gay adoptee becomes advocate after enduring abuse in foster care, transracial adoption

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Disclaimer: This story mentions details of child neglect which may be upsetting to some.

“I was born in the inner city of Detroit in 1992, in the midst of the War on Drugs that affected a lot of Black fathers in my neighborhood. My mother stayed at home with us kids and my father ‘worked’ as a drug dealer. Was life perfect? No, of course not. But we were a family, we were healthy and together. Until he was arrested for marijuana possession—him having less marijuana on him than I do here in 2022 while sitting at my office desk writing this for you (we need laws to change!). With no man to provide, my mother took over his drug business and that’s where the neglect began.

Black father standing behind his young son who is wearing a graduation gown and cap next to his little sister
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard
woman sitting on her husbands lap wearing colorful outfit
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

My mother would be gone on ‘business trips’ sometimes for weeks at a time leaving my older sister in charge. There are four of us kids total—three boys and one girl, and my siblings and I have always been very close. We would run out of food while our mom was gone or the electricity would be shut off for days in the winter. Not to mention the abuse we suffered at the hands of the men she dated. This all led us to be removed by CPS in the State of Michigan. Because of my mother’s drug involvement when we were removed, the entire swat team accompanied the social worker who was there to remove us.

portrait of four young black siblings
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

When the police broke into the door, they started shouting and pointing guns at us. They huddled us into a corner and I felt terrified. Growing up in Detroit, I wasn’t a stranger to police violence and shooting. I was afraid I would be killed that day. I didn’t die that day, but something much worse happened—I went into the foster care system. I was bounced between 30 different foster homes and placements, sometimes not even staying long enough to get the names of all the other kids in the home. I was removed for several different reasons – foster parental abuse physical or sexual abuse.

Young black boy sitting on the street wearing white shirt and jeans
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

Sometimes the foster parents stopped fostering or were not prepared for the behavior I displayed because of the trauma I had experienced. Sometimes I was placed in group homes simply because they did not have any foster homes. And in those group homes, they treated you more like a prisoner than children. After surviving so much abuse within the foster care system, at 8 years old, I ran into the front of a car and tried to take my own life. It wasn’t my time to go because the van avoided me and then I spent several weeks getting psychological treatment. Being in foster care felt so hopeless; I felt like I had no control over any aspect of my life and that included ending it.

But I held onto life with the hopes that one day I would be saved from a life of uncertainty, abuse, and neglect. I thought that day came when I was adopted. Right before my 11th birthday, I was transracially adopted by ill-prepared adoptive parents who adopted me for all the wrong reasons. My adoptive mother suffered from infertility trauma, which quickly became my problem when I did not live up to her expectations. My adoptive parents were also very religious and conservative and it caused many issues. Seeing that I was openly gay, they constantly tried to ‘convert’ my sexuality. They also used me as free labor, an indentured servant of sorts doing all of the house and yard work while the other biological children didn’t lift a finger.

Young black boy next to his white adoptive parents and sibling
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

I constantly felt like the help more than their child and it was made perfectly evident when I was 15 and my adoptive mother told me she no longer wanted me because she had her own children now. She and her husband then abandoned me on the streets. That was the last time I saw them – 15 years ago. Adoption offered me a different life, but not a better one. And to be honest, I would have been better off aging out of foster care, because at least it came with government funding for college and medical needs. Being adopted and abandoned meant I was on my own.

Being abandoned by parents who chose me and I thought would love me forever somehow hurt even more than being taken away from my biological family. But rejection and disappointment are nothing I wasn’t used to. After my adoptive parents left me on the streets, I bounced from couch to couch with friends and ultimately ended up homeless, where I became the victim of sex trafficking. Life felt completely hopeless; how much more could I endure? I didn’t know. But I knew I had a future, and in that future, I could be whoever I wanted to be. So I persevered, got my GED, and then attended college, where I met my now-husband Kristopher.

professional portrait of two black men who are a couple
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

With him by my side, I reunited with my birth family and began to repair our relationship. This was one of the hardest conversations I have ever had in my life—asking my mother why she didn’t save me from foster care and holding her accountable for what had happened to me—but I did it. I had that conversation, she apologized, and we moved on, making many happy memories I will cherish forever. But like everything in my life, darkness was not far away from me and my family. After being reunified with my mom and siblings for almost 6 years, getting the opportunity to travel with them and visit Disney, my mom and my sister tragically died in a car accident.

Black male adoptee reunited with his younger biological family members
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard
Black male adoptee taking a selfie with his biological mother
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

I had lost them once again, and this time there would be no reunification in this life. I wish I had time to grieve, but even after my mom’s death my time in foster care and my adoption would affect me. Being legally adopted meant I no longer had access to the end-of-life plans of my mother and sister, and yet, I was the one paying for the majority of the funerals. At one point, the funeral director told me I was not the son of my mother and it will haunt me to the day I die. This brings me to what I do today! I wrote a memoir of my experience called Wards of the State: A Memoir of Foster Care which is part of a trilogy.

Book by Karlos Dillard called Wards of the State: A Memoir of foster care
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

I use my lived experience to help teach and train foster parents and social workers to hopefully prevent another youth from the fate I had. I use social media to educate the public on how corrupt the foster and adoptive systems are and advocate for reform, such as adoption annulment—a process that would allow adult adoptees to legally sever their relationship with their abusive adoptive parents if they so choose. Even though life has been dark, I choose to always shine light because you never know who you are lighting the way for, including yourself!

Black man wearing a brown suit giving a public speech in a stage
Brady Harvey
Group of young people at church sitting in the first row looking happy and smiling
Brady Harvey

If you take anything from my story, I hope you take away that a child’s needs should be centered always in biological, foster, and adoptive families. Listen to children and listen to more than their words—listen to their behaviors and responses to adversity, it’s usually a call out for help. And lastly, know that adoption offers a different life, not a better life, and the option to not be in that legal relationship is a human right. Thank you for your time and always shine your light.”

Portrait of black man with yellow background smiling with his head tilted to the right
Courtesy of Karlos Dillard

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karlos Dillard. You can follow his journey on Instagram. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more stories like this:

‘You never age out of the need for parents, family, and belonging.’: Adult adoptee says ‘there’s ALWAYS hope for healing’

‘Weighing just 2 pounds, we tested positive for crack cocaine.’: Twins adopted by abusive family overcome childhood trauma to advocate for kids in ‘broken’ foster care system

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